Climate Change Increased Weather-Related Catastrophes By Nearly Five Times In 30 Years, Munich Re Says

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Climate change increased the number of hurricanes, tornadoes and other weather-related catastrophes by nearly five times in North America during the past 30 years, according to research published Wednesday by the world’s largest reinsurer, Munich Re.

The German reinsurer said that “nowhere in the world is the rising number of natural catastrophes more evident than in North America.”

Insurance companies and reinsurers, which provide property coverage to insurers, have paid out between $10.4 billion and $110.8 billion annually to cover natural disasters worldwide between 2000 and 2009, according to the Insurance Information Institute, a trade group.

Separately, I wrote recently about the rising liability costs to insurers to pay lawyers in defending against climate-change related lawsuits, of which there have been more than 500 since 1989, according to a tally by a Columbia University law professor.

Between 1980 and 2011, the total insured property cost of weather-related catastrophes in the U.S. was $510 billion. About 30,000 people died as a result of storms during this period.

Munich Re, the parent company of Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Co., was careful to point out that the rising cost of storms and catastrophes is due to factors other than climate change.

“The increasing losses caused by weather related natural catastrophes have been primarily driven by socio-economic factors, such as population growth, urban sprawl and increasing wealth,” Munich Re said in a press release.

Here are some excerpts from Munich Re’s release:

  • The study was prepared in order to support underwriters and clients in North America, the world’s largest insurance and reinsurance market. Using its NatCatSERVICE — with more than 30,000 records the most comprehensive loss data base for natural catastrophes — Munich Re analyzes the frequency and loss trends of different perils from an insurance perspective. The North American continent is exposed to every type of hazardous weather peril — tropical cyclone, thunderstorm, winter storm, tornado, wildfire, drought and flood. One reason for this is that there is no mountain range running east to west that separates hot from cold air.
  • Nowhere in the world is the rising number of natural catastrophes more evident than in North America. The study shows a nearly quintupled number of weather-related loss events in North America for the past three decades, compared with an increase factor of 4 in Asia, 2.5 in Africa, 2 in Europe and 1.5 in South America. Anthropogenic climate change is believed to contribute to this trend, though it influences various perils in different ways. Climate change particularly affects formation of heat-waves, droughts, intense precipitation events, and in the long run most probably also tropical cyclone intensity.

About Matthew Sturdevant

Full-time staff journalist at The Hartford Courant and magazine freelancer with a master's degree in writing from Dartmouth. My work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, Taiwan News, The Baltimore Sun and many other news sources. My blog has been referenced by, the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Georgetown Law Library and a number of organizations in healthcare and business. Sturdevant’s blog is "a well-written wealth of ideas," said The Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism, (, May 18, 2011). I have experience writing for newspapers, magazines, Web sites and blogs as well as shooting and editing video. I made regular appearances on news-talk radio and on the NBC affiliate station in Corpus Christi, Texas. I made occasional appearances on the Fox affiliate in Connecticut promoting Hartford Courant articles.

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